One Principal’s Plan to Fix Education: Ban Teachers’ Desks!

A principal in the Bronx removed teacher desks “to faciliate better instruction.”

Rashevskyi Viacheslav/Shutterstock

What’s wrong with education today? Is it the unions, or teacher tenure? Or maybe it’s persistent inequality and the rich-poor achievement gap. Could the problem be overtesting? Or perhaps it’s the corporatization of schools.

One principal in the Bronx has offered a fascinating new entry into the annals of this long-raging debate: It’s the desks! 

Last week, Donna Connelly, the principal of PS 24 Spuyten Duyvil School in Riverdale, decided to banish all teacher desks from her school, to prevent teachers from sitting during class. According to a New York Post report, the only explanation she tenured was “It’s the 21st century—you don’t need desks.”

Connelly also set her sights on teachers’ filing cabinets and ordered those removed as well, right in the middle of the school day. From the Post:

“Figure it out,” she snapped when staffers asked where to store their supplies, a source said.

As to where teachers should grade papers, Connelly answered, “Use the lunch room,” sources said.

Teachers had to remove student paperwork and items such as devices to help kids with asthma.

Students watched as teachers piled their belongings onto radiators and custodians hauled the exiled furniture to the blacktop of a school across the street.

Riverdale is, of course, the most affluent neighborhood in the Bronx, home of the tony (albeit sex scandal–plagued) Horace Mann School, where tuition is $45,000 a year. A mile and a half away, the Spuyten Duyvil School has a diverse K–5 student body: 46 percent white, 38 percent Hispanic, 7 percent black, and 7 percent Asian, with roughly a quarter qualifying for free and reduced lunch. Test scores at the school are well above the city average, if still by no means spectacular, with 51 percent of students meeting state standards on English and 55 percent on math exams, compared with a city average of 30 percent and 39 percent.

Perhaps Connelly removed the desks in an effort to boost those numbers even more (or, as a New York City Department of Education official put it, “to facilitate better instruction”). But after the Post’s damning piece on the furniture liquidation, Connelly relented on Monday, sending out an email to her staff announcing the imminent return of desks to classrooms. Now she can turn her attention to cracking down on another scourge facing schools today: faculty-lounge vending machines.